Skip to main content

Full text of "Twenty-five years of ocean colportage : by seamen from the port of New York; a sketch"

See other formats


BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY 



3 9999 03323 484 8 



5952 
.68 



In anticipation of the collection for the 
Bible Cause next Sunday, a reading is re- 
quested for the accompanying " Sketch," pub- 
lished in another connection, but well exhibit- 
ing a single department of the work of the 
NEW YORK BIBLE SOCIETY. 



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS 

OF 

BY SEAMEN FROM THE PORT OF 
NEW YORK. 



A SKETCH 

BV JOHN S. PIERSON, 

MARINE AGENT OF THE NEW YORK BIBLE SOCIETY. 



AMERICAN TRACT SOCIETY, 

I 50 'NASSAU STREET, NEW YORK. 



A paper, prepared for, and in part read 
before, the American Seamen^s Friend Society, 
at its Fiftieth Anniversary, May 6, 1878. 



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS 

OF 

OCEAN COLPORTAGE. 



Ordinarily, when seamen appear in the records of 
the benevolent operations of the church, it is as the 
objects of its labors and of its benefactions. I propose 
in this paper to exhibit them in quite another character, 
as the laborious and valued helpers of the church, in its 
plans for the conversion of the world — bringing to it 
facilities and talents peculiarly adapted for the prosecu- 
tion of a certain kind of foreign evangelistic work, which 
is entirely beyond the scope and power of its regular 
missionary agencies. A striking example of this ser- 
vice is afforded in a unique work carried on now for 
twenty-five years in this port, under the direction 
of the New York Bible Society and the American Tract 



4 



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF 



Society, in which seamen appear as the efficient agents 
in circulating large quantities of religious reading and 
of the Scriptures at many points upon the globe. 

This work forms the theme of the present paper, 
which may be stated more definitely as follows : The 
facts and lessons of a quartc?' century of Bible and t?'act 
distribution in Roman-catholic countries^ as carried on 
through seamen sailing from tlu port of New York. 

The history of the work in this port — and I am not 
aware that it has been elsewhere attempted in any like 
extent — may be given in a few words. Frorn the first, 
our Societies had occasionally invoked the aid of sea- 
men in reaching remote or inaccessible points. In the 
Annual Reports of the New York Bible Society for 1850 
and the two following years, such distributions appear 
with increasing frequency: but it was not till 1853 that 
this work was organized, and became a regular part of 
the scheme of the said Societies ; the American Bible 
Society freely granting for this foreign use, and the 
American Tract Society heartily cooperating. Since 
that date, these distributions have continued to in- 
crease, as experience has shown their usefulness: so 
that during the twelve months ending Sept. 30, 1877, 
they amounted to 10,989 copies of the Scriptures (main- 
ly Testaments), and 2,200,000 pages of the publications 
of the American Tract Society, sent forth upon 1,327 



OCEAN COLFORIAGE. 



5 



vessels: with a total for the last twenty-five years, of 
130,000 Bibles and Testaments, and 35,000,000 pages 
of tracts. All these were (with a few exceptions) in the 
four languages of southern Europe. 

And now in noticing the peculiarities of this system 
of Gospel propagandism, I may briefly premise, that it 
wisely addresses itself primarily to seaport towns, to the 
mercantile class, and to seamen. 

As the ocean is a prominent source of physical 
life and motion upon the globe, so history shows that 
the extending of civilization and the spreading of new 
ideas are largely due to the classes mentioned — those 
"who do business upon the great waters," whose life- 
work it seems to be to stir up matters and keep the 
world from stagnation. 

From the same source we learn further that the nat- 
ural atmosphere of great marts of commerce, where men 
of various nationalities and faiths come together to ex- 
change opinions, as well as material commodities, is 
one of comparative freedom of thought and of toleration 
of novelties. New religious truth has often found at 
such points its promptest hearing, its readiest propaga- 
tion, and its asylum ; in proof of which we may cite 
such names as La Rochelle, London, Geneva, and the 
cities of Holland. 

Again, as to the commencement, by the societies in 



6 



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF 



this port of New York, -of this world-wide work of 
Christian colportage through the agency of seamen, no- 
tice that it was the plain result of their location, sug- 
gesting and almost forcing it upon them. It was the 
most natural and simple thing for them to use the ciir- 
I'cnts of commerce flowing by their very doors, to con- 
vey their books to their first destinations, the larger 
seaports of the world, from which minor currents again 
might be relied upon to give them a still wider dis- 
persion. 

These great commercial currents may be compared 
to the venous system in the human body, into which if 
a medicine be injected at one point, it will presently be 
found affecting a remote one ; or to the great " ocean 
rivers," which do so much to keep the waters of the 
sea fresh and sweet. 

Go off shore a hundred miles till you come to the 
edge of the " indigo blue " water, and drop there a 
sealed bottle, and before many months your message 
may be picked up by some one on the coast of France 
or of the Hebrides. Bayard Taylor noticing once some 
peculiarity in a log on the driftwood fire in a lighthouse 
upon the northern coast of Norway, examined it, and 
recognized a tropical wood peculiar to South America. 
A thousand miles, possibly, from the sea, overhanging 
some tributary of the Amazon, the tree had grown, been 



OCEAN COLPORTAGE. 



7 



overthrown by storm or the undermining of the bank, 
had floated down to the Father of Waters and then on 
its broad bosom to the ocean ; there taken up by the 
great equatorial current and carried through the Carib- 
bean sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida straits and 
across the Atlantic, to rest at last, a worn and bar- 
nacled fragment, upon the extreme shore of northern 
Europe. 

This may serve as an illustration of the power of the 
forces we can command, and of the very unexpected 
and remote lodgment which books set afloat here at 
New York may attain. 

Take as a specimen the following from the report of 
the New York Bible Society : 

"Captain C of the American brig , which sailed from 

here for the east coast of Africa last year, brings back a report of 
distributions made of Scriptures and tracts in French, Portuguese, 
and Arabic, as follows. At Zanzibar he distributed with great 
acceptance, to a number of Portuguese from Goa, on the coast of 
Hindostan. At Mozambique, he gave an Arabic Testament to a 
Mussulman gentleman of standing, who took it with reiterated in- 
junctions of secresy. At Aden, the American consul asked a copy 
in the same language, to lend to his Mohammedan acquaintances. 
At Muscat, another Arabic Testament was given to the first naval 
officer in the service of the Imaum of Muscat. He also distributed 
in the French language, at the Maldive Islands, at several points 
on the coast of Madagascar, and on the small islands to the nortli 
of it. 

In one instance, a Frenchman at a lonely trading-station in 



8 TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF 



Madagascar, to whom he had given a French Bible and tracts, was 
so much pleased that he sent him down a touching letter of thanks, 
and a piece of silver for the Society. *I am not in very good cir- 
cumstances,' were his words, *as you know; but I beg you to cast 
into the treasure-chest of this Society five francs, the poor man's 
farthing {le denier du paitvre), to aid the expenses of this benevo- 
lent work.' " 

And here I will say, that I do not think we of New 
York appreciate the advantages we enjoy for this par- 
ticular missionary work, in living at such a world-centre, 
the second commercial port on the globe, whose ship- 
ping (its own and foreign) gives us ready communica- 
tion with every shore, and especially with large sections 
of Roman-catholic Christendom. In the words of a 
report of the American Tract Society, " The grooves of 
commerce are already laid down for us, which we have 
only to use, in order to send our publications with pre- 
cision and without expense to the ends of the earth. 
The package carefully made up for the particular desti- 
nation — of Spanish Testaments and tracts, or Portu- 
guese or Italian, as the case may be — is placed to-day 
in the hands of the captain of a vessel lying at one of 
our piers, and in a month's time its contents are delight- 
ing and instructing a score of families in Brazil or Spain 
or Sicily." 

Almost any day I can go down into South street and 
put my hand on the shoulder of a captain who will do 



OCEAN COLFORTAGE. 



9 



my benevolent errand in Shanghai, or Para, or Callao. 
And not only so, but he may perhaps introduce me to 
a passenger in his cabin who, when the sea-voyage is 
ended, will be going farther — up the Yang-Tse river, or 
to the silver mines among the Andes, or deep into the 
forests of Brazil. So that not only all shores washed 
by the salt sea, or by the navigable streams that flow 
into it, are our field, but also inland regions in commu- 
nication with the same ; for to these we can teach the 
sailor to send, if he cannot carry, our books. 

And, as a matter of fact, I suppose that scarcely 
an inhabited island, or stretch of seacoast, or commer- 
cial city of moderate size reached by American prod- 
ucts, could be found which, in stray Testament or 
tract, would not exhibit token of the ubiquitous charac- 
ter of this work done by seamen sailing from the port 
of New York. 

Perhaps the most eloquent statements of the wide 
scope of these distributions would be the simple enu- 
meration of the ports reached in a single month, as in 
January, 1878, which is as follows: Havana, St. Jagos, 
Sagua, Cienfuegos, Nuevitas, Matanzas, Rio Hache, 
Trinidad de Cuba, Porto Rico, Martinique, Guadaloupe, 
Jeremie, Aux Cayes, Port au Prince, Gonaives, Jacmel, 
Belize, Honduras, Truxillo, Omoa, Puerto Cortes, Vera 
Cruz, Savanilla, Porto Cabello, Ciudad Bolivar, Rio 



lo TIVENTY-FIVE YEARS OF 

Janeiro, Para, Pernambuco, Rio Grande, Buenos Ayres, 
Rosario, Montevideo, Callao, Bordeaux, Lisbon, Cadiz, 
Gibraltar, Santander, Corunna, Canary Islands, Genoa, 
Naples, Leghorn, Messina, Zanzibar, and Manilla. 

Yet these names do not tell the whole stor}^ even of 
a single month. They say nothing of the distributions 
by the way — at the lonely islands touched at in the Pa- 
cific, not down on the map, yet already inhabited by 
fugitives from civilization ; or to the negro wreckers on 
the Bahama Keys (mere ribs of sand with a backbone, 
perhaps, of coral, and a vegetation of a few palms), who 
watch for the sailor, and as the welcome sail appears 
in sight, come out to meet him " singing hymns," and 
" bringing fish and fruit to exchange for Testaments or 
tracts;" or "to French and Portuguese trading-vessels 
met with up the rivers Pongos and Nunez, West Africa;" 
or to Russian officers, glad of a few tracts in Swedish 
and German, in their isolation at a military post near 
the mouth of the Amoor river. 

Says the captain of the ship Argosy, 

What remained of your supply of Testaments and tracts and 
papers found an excellent distribution on our return from England 
by the northern passage. Just there we were boarded by several 
boats from Fair Island, a small affair lying alone by itself in lat- 
itude 59 degrees, midway between the Orkney and the Shetland 
Islands. The hundred or two of inhabitants are very poor, have 
no settled minister, and few books ; and, beyond what they get 



OCEAN COLPORTAGE. 



II 



out of the sea (fish, sea-fowl, etc.), are mainly dependent upon 
occasional supplies from passing vessels. We Americans, you 
know, have a reputation for open-handed liberality, and I tried to 
meet their expectations. I bought their fish, gave them a hand- 
some lift out of the pork-barrel, and lastly hunted up for them all 
the Testaments, tracts, papers, and old books I could muster. 
This pleased them most of all ; and they went away delighted." 

Nor is mere distance recognized as an insuperable 
obstacle at a centre like New York. Let any unusual 
gathering of people, on almost any shore, present a 
special call for the Bible and the tract — whether it be 
of armies in the Crimea, or of a French fleet at Vera 
Cruz, or of a Telegraph Expedition at Sitka on the 
Northwest coast — and we shall find means by the help 
of the sailor to do something for them, though our sup- 
ply have to be forwarded (as in one instance) upon a 
vessel loaded with ricm I 

As to the methods of distribution, the following may 
serve as a specimen of the ordinary type. 

The captain of the brig D says : " On the first evening 

after our arrival at Malaga, a party of ladies and gentlemen came 
down to the water's side to enjoy the sea breeze. Seeing the 
American flag aloft, they asked to be allowed to come on board 
and view the Yankee craft. After minutely examining things on 
deck, they asked for a peep into the cabin. In anticipation of vis- 
itors, I had, according to yonr printed directions, plentifully cov- 
ered the cabin table with Spanish Testaments and tracts. Of 
course these attracted their immediate attention. They were de- 
lighted with the books, some of them never having seen a Testa- 



12 



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF 



ment before. When I offered them copies, they could hardly be 
persuaded to accept, but almost insisted upon their right to pur- 
chase. Three of these Testaments went to a village twenty-five 
miles inland. About a week afterwards, an old man over seventy 
years of age, from this town, came on board. He had seen the 
Testaments, and travelled all that distance for the sole purpose of 
getting one. It was sad to be obliged to tell him that the last 
copy had been given some days. I gave the cabin another over- 
hauling, in hopes of finding something in Spanish for him ; but 
not even a tract was to be had. When I announced the result, the 
old gentleman burst into tears, and bade me a sorrowful adieu." 

The peculiar traits of the sailor are often illustrated 

by these distributions — his enterprise, his fearlessness, 

as also the singular immunity he seems to possess of 

doing everywhere pretty much what he pleases, without 

challenge. 

In one case he takes the ship's boat Sunday morn- 
ing and visits the vessels in the roadstead, or he pulls out 
to the old hulk which serves as a hospital, or to the 
Spanish man-of-war ; on all which his books are enthu- 
siastically received. Or he divides his package among 
the raftsmen who have floated mahogany down the 
river to the vessel ; or among the fishing-craft and bum- 
boat-men boarding the vessel as it lies becalmed off the 
coast of Spain ; or at Cadiz, among the laborers unload- 
ing the cargo — one of whom failing to receive, offers to 
" work a whole night for a Testament." Or, more boldly, 
he goes ashore to the market-place at sunrise, so as to 



OCEAN COLPORTAGE, 



13 



catch the market-people from the country, or to the 
town jail to give to the prisoners; or he distributes 
tracts from house to house in Havana, exhorting also 
as well as his small stock of Spanish will permit ; or in 
the same port he takes a basket loaded with Spanish 
reading matter to the large fort adjoining the Moro, 
and is well received. In Malaga, a captain, at the sug- 
gestion of a soldier, takes his wife and the Spanish 
package, and visits the barracks, where they are wel- 
comed as guests, and have to write their names in every 
Testament given. At Alicante, a mate, thinking with 
singular simplicity that " the cathedral must be a good 
place to distribute Testaments and tracts," visits it, 
empties his pockets, and comes away unscathed. 

When the priest has appeared upon the scene in con- 
nection with these distributions in Roman-catholic coun- 
tries, it has generally been to make trouble; but not 
always, especially in Spanish America and Brazil. Here 
the village "padre," uneducated, far removed from 
supervision, and in kindly sympathy with his flock, has 
not infrequently dared to receive the Scriptures himself, 
and to recommend them to his people. I remember one 
notable case in a Mexican port, of a Prior in the order 
of the Augustins, a leading man from his intelligence 
and position, and an eminent preacher, who did not 
hesitate to circulate the Spanish Testaments and tracts 



7^ 



14 



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF 



which a captain brought him from voyage to voyage. 
On one occasion he sent $6 to buy the Tract Society's 
" Gartilla," and other Spanish books for his school. 

The government official too (of the customs, or of the 
health service) so generally supposed to be our enemy 
in those old times when the Bible was contraband, more 
frequently proved to be our friend. The bow bent too 
far, breaks ; and tyrannical laws which violate man's 
deepest instincts of right, telling him what he may and 
what he may not read for his soul's salvation, often hap- 
pily secure their own non-enforcement. So the custom- 
house officer, an intelligent man necessarily, and liber- 
alized by intercourse with foreigners, instead of prevent- 
ing distributions, has often relieved the captain from the 
labor and risk of making them, securing first for him- 
self the prohibited book, and then taking other copies 
ashore for his friends. 

The reports have much to tell of this class of men. 

" Mr. S relates an incident which occurred when he was 

mate on a vessel in the port of Denia several years ago. The 
captain gave a Bible and some tracts to an official, who took them 
on shore, where they were seized, and himself imprisoned for a 
day or two by the authorities. Learning where he had obtained 
them, they came on board, and with threats of seizing the vessel 
for breach of the laws, they forced the captain to promise that he 
would refrain from any further distributions. One evening the 
officer who had lost his Bible swam out to the vessel, and appealed 
to the captain to give him another. The captain, true to his prom- 



OCEAN COLFORTAGE. 



15 



ise, refused to do this, though the man actually got down upon his 
knees in his earnestness; but being called out of the cabin to 
attend to some duty, his wife was persuaded by the man's entreaties, 
and he swam away with the Bible tied on the top of his head." 

*' Once," said the captain, " at Ponce we had on board a custom- 
house officer who had been a captain in the Spanish army in St. 
Domingo, a grave, gentlemanly person, quite superior to his class. 
According to my usual habit, I one day brought out a Spanish 
Testament from my shelf, and handed it to him. He read the 
title-page attentively, then rose, put his hand in his pocket for his 
purse, and offered me half an ounce in gold ($8) for it. Of course 
I declined, and asked .him to accept it as a gift. He read on 
through the first chapter of Matthew, then rose again, took out the 
gold coin, and insisted that I should receive it. I had to explain 
to him that the books were not mine, but were put in my library 
by certain benevolent people in New York for this very purpose 
of doing good {^^por amor de Dios ") without expectation of return. 
*Ah,' said he, 'the people of New York are true Christians' 
{'mucho Cristianos''). All the time that he remained on board, and 
had opportunity to read, that book was in his hand, and when he 
left, he wrapped it up carefully and put it in his bosom." 

This man had evidently heard of the Bible, or had seen it, and 
was waiting for an opportunity to become its possessor. 

Some of these earlier reports of the New York Bible 
Society bring vividly to mind the state of things pre- 
vailing twenty-five years ago, now fortunately ended, 
when most of southern Europe was closed to the Bible : 
when ship-owners often forbade their vessels taking our 
packages on account of the danger: when our books 
found on shore were burned, and the captain threat- 
ened ; when the obnoxious material in the cabin was 



i6 TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF 



seized, to be returned when the vessel sailed (which it 
often was not) ; and when such cases were occasionally 
reported as that of Agostino Francis, mate of the Sici- 
lian brig Anna, who was sentenced in Palermo to ten 
months' imprisonment and a fine of sixty dollars for 
having in his possession an Italian Bible obtained in 
New York. 

In those days when large populations were met with 
to whom the Bible was known only by name, it was 
often the supreme privilege of the missionary sailor to 
convey to God's hidden ones — humble earnest souls, un- 
enlightened, yet " touching the hand of God in the dark- 
ness," and thus guided through bewildering superstitions 
to a saving knowledge of essential truth — the great 
boon of His genuine and complete word. 

I remember a case in which, in Havana, a mate re- 
ceived a secret application for Testaments and tracts 
for the use of a circle of natives in one of the suburbs, 
who met regularly to pray and read, earnestly seeking 
the truth in this way. The movement had its rise in 
reading Spanish books brought from the cabins of Amer- 
ican vessels. 

A captain reports that when he was distributing in 
the Adriatic, 

" One of these Italian Testaments reached a monastery six miles 
in the interior, and from that time onward the captain was daily 



OCEAN COLPORTAGE, 



17 



visited by some of the monks calling for tracts and Testaments, 
which they managed to carry ashore secreted in the folds of their 
long gowns. A gray-headed old monk, seventy years of age, 
walked down to the vessel and back to obtain a Testament. All 
were very grateful ; and the captain was obliged to yield to their 
solicitations to accept in return the hospitalities of the monastery." 

Here is an account of a distribution made at Fuerte- 
Ventura, one of the smaller of the Canary Islands ; and 
another in a quite different field. 

" They have no priest, but some of them under the limited 
school provision made by the Spanish government, know how to 
read. They live by fishing and making barilla from the seaweed, 
for vessels that come there to load with that cargo. The captain 
described the joy of these poor people as really affecting, when 
they found that the books he gave them contained the whole life 
of ''Ntiestro Senor Jesu-CristOy and told them besides all about the 
apostles '' Sa7t Mateo,'' ^ San Giacomo^ and the rest, with whose 
names (and with little else of their history or writings) they were 
so familiar. As those who read the books aloud to the rest, here 
and there by snatches, made these discoveries, there was a general 
expression of delight : the Testaments were clasped to their breasts, 
and he was thanked again and again. They showed their grati- 
tude by working with a will in loading his boats ; and when the 
cargo of barilla was completed, and he bade them good-by, they 
waded up to the middle to help the last boat through the surf* 
The captain said the whole scene reminded him of the parting of 
the Ephesian Christians with St. Paul, 'sorrowing most of all for 
the words that he spake, that they should see his face no more.' " 

** April. — Captain Anderson of the Norwegian bark U. M , 

reports an interesting incident in connection with an Arabic Testa- 
ment, which formed part of his supplies when he sailed from this 
port to the Levant, last May. When he arrived at Alexandria, he 



■ 



i8 



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF 



laid the book, according to the printed instructions, 'upon his 
cabin table, for the use of visitors,' where it was presently seen by 
the son of the ship-chandler, an Egyptian and a Mohammedan, 
who furnished supplies to the vessel. This lad became deeply in- 
terested in the volume, reading it for hours every day. 'How is 
this ?' said he; ' I see nothing said about Mohammed here.'' In reply, 
the captain explained to him about the Christian's great Prophet 
and Saviour. The black slave who rowed the ship-chandler's 
boat every day to the vessel, also shared in the interest, listening 
to the captain's talk, and hearing the volume read aloud by the 
boy. When the reading was delayed, he would impatiently ask for 
it. Such was the daily scene during the three weeks of the vessel's 
stay; and when she sailed, with many thanks the precious book 
was carried ashore to be treasured and read in that Mohammedan 
household." 

I wish that the limits of this paper would admit of 
our taking a single missionary field — South America, 
for instance, naturally ours by its proximity, and inter- 
esting from the needs of its sparse and ignorant popu- 
lation, all Romish — and noting in detail what this 
benevolent work has done for it. Not only for a quar- 
ter of a century, by the aid of seamen, have we been 
diligently bombarding with Testament and tract its 
fifteen thousand miles of seacoast, at the thirty or more 
points with which our commerce brings us in frequent 
in some cases almost weekly communication, but also 
by means of its great rivers, we have been able to pene- 
trate in several directions to the heart of the continent. 

The river Magdalena has carried our books almost 




OCEAN COLPORTAGE, 



19 



up to Bogota. Ciudad Bolivar, a port of entry three 
hundred miles up the Orinoco, has often served as a 
depot, from which English and American engineers, em- 
ployed in the small steamers which navigate the head 
waters of the Portuguesa and Apure rivers, have drawn 
Spanish Testaments and tracts for circulation eight 
hundred miles farther inland. From Maranhao, by 
similar means, the Brazilian captains being interested, 
distributions are frequently made among the settlements 
on the very borders of the Indian country. And the 
great rivers which join to form the La Plata, have again 
and again borne the sailor-colporteur even up to Para- 
guay, when it was almost a terra incognita. 

A captain very recently gives us a striking picture : 

" It is wonderful to see how anxious the people in this country 
are for the Word of God. When we got up to Corrientes (on the 
borders of Paraguay), the people found out that we had books on 
board as soon as the pilot got ashore. Presently we saw them 
coming, like an army marching, some with parrots and some with 
paroquets, to exchange for Testaments. I was sorry that we had 
only a few left to give them. Vessels rarely get up so far ; we 
found only two there." 

The story of the opening of the river Amazon to 
steam navigation in 1853-6, by Capt. Robert Nesbit of 
this city, is of deep interest. This was signalized by 
copious distributions of the gospel, for the first time 
all along its banks even to its remote sources on the 



20 



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF 



eastern slopes of the Andes, three thousand miles in- 
land : so that toward the close of his three years' stay- 
in those regions, during which frequent supplies in 
Spanish and Portuguese were sent to him, he would 
write, " I do not think there is a single village or settle- 
ment on the Amazon, from Tarma to Para, where you 
are not represented, either by the four-page tract or the 
• full Bible." 

As the little iron steamer (one of two sent out in 
sections from this city and put together at Para) awa- 
kened for the first time the echoes on those inland 
waters, the captain found (to quote his own words) that, 
"strange as it seemed, the fame of these books had 
preceded me up the river. I had, in many instances, 
scarcely time to have the steamer moored or tied to the 
bank, before they would be on board inquiring for the 
Capitan MisionarioP 

Especially in the portion of Peru east of the Andes, 

these novel distributions were enthusiastically received. 

The priests interposed no obstacles ; " some of them 

even, who had never owned a full copy of the Bible in 

their lives," asking for it. 

" In Peru, at Nauta, the governor-general of the eastern dis- 
trict, at whose table I ate all the while I was in that part of Peru, 
not only gladly received and read of every kind I had in Spanish, 
but franked them to different localities where I did not go, and 
often expressed his regret that I had no more for him to dis» 



OCEAN COLFOR TA GE. 2 1 



tribute. ... He also sent one of the Society's Spanish Bibles to 
his family, in the city of Cajamarca, on the Pacific side of the 
Andes. He also sent one to each of the sub-prefectos in the 

towns of Moyabamba and Sarayacu There were several 

schools established by his orders, with the little books from the 
Tract Society, that would never have been heard or thought of 
had it not been for them." 

In the general destitution of school books in those 

remote regions, " the Spanish Tract Primers were like 

precious jewels." Even a copy of the four-page tract 

" Poor Joseph," protected by a strong cover, was used 

as a reading-book till it fell to pieces. Just before he 

left South America, Capt. Nesbit wrote, 

•* Again, if you ever happen up the mighty Amazon, or any of 
its tributaries, and take passage on one of the eight steamers now 
in successful operation upon their waters, you will find one of the 
American Bible Society's Bibles in each cabin, either fastened by 
a small chain to the side-table, or to the wall near one, for public 
use. They are thus secured so that they may not be stolen." 

The door thus opened for the gospel by commercial 
and Christian enterprise has never been closed. Soon 
after, large grants from the American Bible and Tract 
Societies were sent to some eight persons at various 
points on the river, among whom was the ofBcial above 
mentioned, Gen. Francisco Alvarado Ortiz, of the De- 
partment of Loretto, Peru. And down to the present 
time, at frequent intervals, by the hands of Americans 
or Europeans employed on these steamers, or of the 



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF 



Indian and half-breed crews of the rude barge-shaped 
canoes which still bring down nuts and hides and rub- 
ber to Para, Portuguese and Spanish Testaments and 
tracts carried by seamen from this city, are finding 
their way to village or mission, a thousand miles up 
the great river. 

Christian seamen often do valuable service in find- 
ing and setting to work isolated Christians living in the 
midst of unevangelized communities. There are many 
such-, in whom religion has sadly declined from unfavor- 
able surroundings and the absence of gospel privileges, 
who are revived and stimulated to duty by contact with 
the warm-hearted missionary sailor. In other cases, 
where there is the heart to work, but an absence of the 
necessary appliances, the sailor furnishes the needed 
intermediary between the distributer and the Societies 
here. There are many little points of light scattered 
here and there in the world's dark places, kept burning 
with oil which the sailor brings. 

I remember one case of an old American captain, 
married and long resident in Buenos Ayres, and at one 
time commanding its fleet, with whom I corresponded, 
who did noble service for years in distributing at the 
small settlements upon the coast to the south, as far as 
Patagonia, a region not visited by our own shipping. 
This same man discovered and brought away the re- 



OCEAN COLPORTAGE, 



23 



mains of the ill-fated missionaries under Captain Gard- 
ner who starved to death on the coast of Patagonia. 
In another case, an acquaintance made by a captain 
with an English merchant living at Fray Bentos and 
Gualeguaychu on the Uruguay river, resulted in large 
Spanish distributions in that region, from which at one 
time $200 was received and paid over to the Societies 
here. 

Again, the cabin of the packet, which carries regular- 
ly foreign passengers to and from Roman-catholic ports, 
furnishes a grand field for the Bible and the tract. By 
the help of seamen, this important position can be, and 
to a considerable extent is, so occupied, that the gospel 
shall be brought to bear upon the mass of that travel- 
ling element, which — providentially in the custody of 
seamen for days and weeks together upon the ocean — 
is so largely made up of the mercantile and educated 
classes, men of force of character and of influence in 
their several countries. This thought is well brought 
out in the report of one of our captains, as follows : 

" I consider these distributions, which have been going on for 
so many years in the ports of Brazil, really an important element 
of influence in the civilization and elevation of the country. We 
often carry as passengers men of intelligence and position; and 
the reading of a Testament or a tract on the voyage by such men 
may have far-reaching consequences." 

Were there space, anecdotes might be multiplied of 



24^ TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF 



deep religious impressions, in some cases of apparent 
conversions, resulting from such reading at sea. 

I must not omit to mention another service which 
seamen are rendering to evangelistic work abroad. The 
American Tract Society publishes, say a new Spanish 
or Portuguese book for the young, just suited to the 
needs of schools in South America, superior to the 
native article in matter, paper, illustrations, and price, 
and therefore sure to make its way when once intro- 
duced. But how to make it known through those vast 
and sparsely-settled regions ? Now comes in the office 
of the Christian seaman ; by whose aid, invoked here in 
New York, specimen copies, labelled with statement of 
price, etc., can in six months be placed in the hands of 
leading men and merchants in perhaps fifty seaports on 
the islands and mainland : and, as the result, within an- 
other six months, orders for the book, coming through 
the ordinary channels of trade, will be dropping in at 
the Tract House; and presently children nominally 
Catholic, thousands of miles away from New York will 
be studying the book, and gathering with other knowl- 
edge the rudiments of Bible Christianity. 

It is partly by such aid that the admirable little vol- 
ume of the Tract Society, the " Cartilla para los Mnos,^' 
1 08 pages, has attained its large circulation of 46,000 
copies in Spanish, and 26,000 in Portuguese. 



OCEAN COLPORTAGE. 



25 



An anecdote about this book may not be out of 
place. Says a captain from Yucatan, 

" I want you for the coming voyage, to give me all the books 
you can. I took up the last to Merida the capital, eighty miles in 
the interior, and had no opposition from the bishop, as on the 

previous occasion. The priest at is my warm friend, and 

does not hesitate to speak in favor of the books publicly. His 
approval has done much for their circulation nere. At Merida, 
when we were at the dinner-table — some twenty or so, at the 
hotel — a play-actor took occasion to praise the Spanish spelling- 
book, of which you sent specimens, and to read aloud some of the 
Scripture passages in it. He pronounced them sublime. I have 
a special request from this man for a Bible, as also from a judge 
of the High Court, a man of eminence." 

Besides advertising in this world-wide fashion evan- 
gelical books, captains frequently arrange direct sales,, 
bringing orders for particular books, one copy or a 
dozen or more. I recollect one case where in two voy- 
ages a captain sold at Maranhao some iwo hundred 
copies of the Tract Primer just mentioned. 

The theory of this work through seamen embraces 
also the supply of the Bible for sale. Yet here we find 
a practical difficulty. In the matter of selling, the sailor 
3s hardly the model colporteur. He cannot resist the 
plea of the needy but impecunious apjDlicant. He is a 
little ashamed to take money for the ''free" gospel, and 
will scarcely do for us what he would not do for him- 
self were the book his own. Often he will compound 



26 TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF 



matters, by giving freely the Bible, and returning to the 
Society the price out of his own pocket, which does not 
exactly meet the point of the rule. As a consequence, 
the supplies furnished to shipping for this foreign use, 
are restricted mainly to the Testament and the tract. 
It is out of the question to supply Bibles in quantity 
for gratuitous use. The market must at any rate be 
left unspoiled for the regular Bible agent, when in due 
time he shall arrive. For we are firmly persuaded that 
self-supply by purchase is the healthy normal method : 
the only one, by which large populations can be ade- 
quately put in possession of so expensive a book as the 
whole Bible. 

Yet cases have been by no means wanting, of cajo- 
tains who, recognizing the rationale of the restriction, 
have been willing to keep regularly the Bible on sale. 
I recollect one, who, in three trading voyages to the 
Pacific ports of Central America, sold more than one 
hundred dollars' worth of Spanish Scriptures and books ; 
and at this present time, the brig Alice, trading to Hon- 
duras (and I might name others), rarely returns to port 
without bringing money for Spanish Bibles sold. 

And here is a specimen of work which a captain was 
habitually doing for years, in a small port in Brazil. 

" He states that there is a growing demand for Bibles and 
tracts at , originating mainly in these distributions by him and 



OCEAN COLPORTAGE. 



27 



other captains of vessels. He now pays %2 25 for three Portu- 
guese Bibles, and brings me ten letters, containing orders for 
forty copies more. Some of these letters are quite formally ad- 
dressed to ^ Illustrissinios Senhores Directores da Biblia^ etc., with 
the opening salutation of * Satcde e Braiida Paz em Seiihor P 
(health and sweet peace in the Lord). The captain also brings 
orders fgr a considerable number of the American Tract Society's 
books from the principal of the ' Collegio de San Miguel.'' " 

No difficulty has been experienced in securing the 
the coiperation of seamen in this benevolent work. If 
the captain or mate is not professedly religious, a kind- 
ly willingness to do a service, which is characteristic of 
the sailor, will generally lead him to take charge of our 
package; the more readily the second time, when he 
finds that it gives him little trouble, and brings him a 
pleasant return of thanks from those receiving its con- 
tents. If he is a Christian man — and the number is 
large and increasing — this work appeals powerfully to 
his sense of duty ; or better, is welcomed as an oppor- 
tunity of loving service for the Master. In both cases 
we have a pledge that the charge when assumed will be 
faithfully performed, in the business training of ship's offi- 
cers as the habitual custodians of the property of others, 
accustomed to receive and to discharge commissions in 
regard to it. 

As a matter of fact, hundreds of these men give us 
steadily their devoted service, and expect their supplies 
each voyage as regularly as they do their cargo. 



28 



TWENTY-FIVE YEAI^S OF 



Further, a large work is made possible by the fact 
that the carriers of the world's commerce are mainly 
Protestants. Catholic countries, France, Austria, and 
especially Italy, have considerable shipping engaged in 
foreign comrnerce : still the fact remains that the flags 
generally met with upon the high seas are those of 
Protestant nations, English, American, German, Scan- 
dinavian.* From all these comes our working force. 

Yet this foreign missionary work we are considering 
is distinctively American. And occasionally we have 
curious illustrations of the way in which, through it, the 
American flag has come to be associated on distant 
shores with the Bible and the tract. One of these was 
furnished in a letter received from a pious lieutenant in 
the Dutch naval service, upon " H. N. M. Brig Venus," 
Curasao Station, as follows : 

" I am also grateful for the tidings I have received of your 
Society in different parts of the globe. Having been a very long 
time at Eatavia, in the East Indies, I knew by experiment that 
American ships generally were in possession of Bibles and tracts. 
By means of your ships the Word of God and our Blessed Saviour 
has been distributed all over the globe. A couple of years ago, I 
was walking with a Christian friend of mine along the quay of 

* Of 6,244 vessels arriving last year at this port from foreign 
countries, 5,409 were of Protestant nations. All others, 835. The 
details of the former are, American 2,205, British 2,110, Norwe* 
gian 605, German 370, Swedish 49, Dutch 47, Danish 21. 



OCEAN C0LP0R2AGE. 29 

Rotterdam, when I invited him to step at once on board the hrst 
ship with stars and stripes we should see. He would not believe 
it, when lo, on the very first one, we were asked what we wanted, 
Bibles or tracts. " 

One thought more : this work benefits the worker. 
The non-rehgious sailor when he is giving the gospel to 
others, must needs think of his own personal lack. With 
the Christian worker, it is a reviving influence, a lesson 
upon the relation of seamen to the coming conversion 
of the world, a training-school for a higher style of mis- 
sionary labor ; for which again this work gives ample 
opportunity. 

Finally, I desire to say that the results of these dis- 
tributions, so widely scattered and so perseveringly con- 
tinued for a quarter of a century, are not to be meas- 
ured by the mere statistics of volumes put in circulation, 
nor by tidings of visible success, however abundant and 
interesting. This is but a pioneer work, preparing the 
way, we trust, for other and larger work to come. Per- 
haps its greatest value consists in the advertisement of 
the gospel at points inaccessible to other agencies ; in 
interest excited, self-supply stimulated, correspondence 
begun, new avenues opened, and fresh demands for 
the printed truth discovered or created ; in the wide 
sowing of germinant ideas ; in prejudices removed : 
in the respect of communities slowly won for American 



OCEAN COLPORTAGE. 



(Protestant) books and liberality; and in the gradual 
crumbling of the barrier against a free Bible — all these 
being its possible results. 

One of the leaders in the recent religious reforma- 
tion in Spain traces his conversion to a tract read in the 
cabin of an American vessel. From Mexico, we hear 
much of the sudden and wonderful conquests made by 
the truth within the past eight years ; yet who shall say 
that these would have been possible, without the pre- 
paratory distributions which had been going on in that 
country, by every available vessel from this port, for the 
twenty years previous ? 



t ^